If you are in the early stages of starting a business or other organization, one early step may be to create a logo. And once you’ve designed the logo, you will want to ensure that it will remain unique to your organization. The best way to ensure this is to get your logo trademarked and copyrighted.
Logos, and other branding elements, can be both trademarked and copyrighted by their original creators to protect them by submitting an application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office or the U.S. Copyright Office.
Trademarks and copyrights are slightly different protections that require somewhat different processes. You’ll need to evaluate your organization and its circumstances to figure out which protections you want to pursue for your logo.
What Is the Difference Between a Copyright and a Trademark?
While we sometimes use these words interchangeably in casual contexts, there is actually a difference between a copyright and a trademark. Both protect intellectual property from theft or replication, but they cover different types of items.
- Copyright applies to “fixed” works such as pieces of music, art, literature, or other creations of intellectual property.
- A trademark, on the other hand, offers protection for “words, names, symbols, sounds or colors that distinguish goods and services from those manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the source of the goods,” according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
In other words, copyrights protect artifacts or particular objects, while a trademark protects an organization’s branding, such as their logos, colors, sounds, and other signature elements that distinguish them from their competitors and make them recognizable.
Since a logo is an element of branding, a trademark is the most common protection to protect it from theft or replication.
Can Logos Be Copyrighted and Trademarked?
While trademarks are typically associated with logos, they can actually be copyrighted in addition to being trademarked. The reason why some organizations do this is the scope of the coverage provided. Because copyright applies protections to a broader range of situations, many larger organizations will opt to add the additional protection of copyright to their logo, in addition to the trademark.
While a trademark is limited to protecting the use of a logo that can be proven to cause confusion within a particular company’s chosen market, copyright offers protection to almost any case of copying or replication that is not authorized, even if it does not have a direct impact on a company’s operations or market success.
In other words, copyrighting your logo can give you protection against anyone using your logo for any purposes without authorization, whether it is a competitor using it or a close variation of your logo, or any other organization or party using it for any other purpose. Thus, while logos for most squarely under the category of trademarks, they can also be copyrighted if you want to offer them even more legal protection.
Is It a Good Idea to Get My Logo Trademarked?
Trademarking of logos is beneficial not only for the organizations that make those logos but also for consumers.
Countless organizations in the world offer endless different services. Some of these corporations have similar names or use similar elements in their logos and design. Companies employ distinctive branding elements to set their products apart and make them recognizable visually. This helps the consumer keep various products and organizations straight and remember particular products they frequently buy.
In fact, many regular consumers of particular products may not even know the brand name that they regularly buy, but know it by its logo and the font and other design elements used in its packaging.
For this reason, branding is a significant part of the American consumer market. Giving your branding and logo the extra legal protection of a trademark ensures that you will be able to keep that branding and the unique visual look and identification of your product.
Can Logos Be Stolen/Replicated If It Is Not Trademarked?
Even without a trademark, you have the rights to any original logo you create as soon as you make it. As with any work of art, writing, etc., your creation is your property, and you have the rights to it according to what is known as “common law.”
Common law protections offer your logo protections and recourse if someone steals or too closely replicates your designs. For this reason, it’s not absolutely essential to get a trademark to protect your logo’s individuality.
If your logo is unregistered and someone steals or too closely replicates it, you will be able to take them to court over the theft. You will need to prove that you were the original creator of the logo and that they copied it. Unfortunately, you will have to face the legal costs of pursuing this yourself (often a complicated process). Additionally, you may not receive any compensation from the organization that took your logo.
However, you can rest assured that, if the legal system functions as it should, you will have the power to get another organization to stop using the logo you created and designed, should any organization try.
Is Trademarking Your Logo Worth It?
Even though common law does offer some protection over logos, there are many additional benefits to trademarking your logo. These benefits primarily have to do with efficiency in handling instances of theft or replication.
A few of the additional benefits of a registered trademark on your logo are:
- The automatic enforcement of the trademark in all 50 U.S. states (Common law protection applies only to the area in which a particular logo is used and may be difficult to enforce across state lines.)
- The right to sue for damages after a trademark is violated and to receive compensation for lost profits
- Reimbursement of legal fees accrued while seeking to deal with an instance of infringement
- Clear, public notice of your ownership of your logo, which will help to discourage theft of your logo to begin with
- Listing of your logo in the online databases of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Offices, which will also discourage theft and make the enforcement of your ownership simpler and more straightforward
- Use of the federal registration symbol (®) next to your logo, which will signal the legal protection your logo has and further discourage theft or replication of the logo
- The burden of proving that the logo is yours is not a factor in a case defending a trademarked logo, as it is in a common law case; your ownership of the logo is officially and legally proven ahead of time
Common law gives you the rights to your logo automatically. You would have the right to get an organization to stop using a replication of your logo based on those legal protections if you proved that you were the original creator of the logo.
However, based on common law alone, this could be an expensive and complicated process, especially if the litigation goes across state lines and deals with multiple courts and power structures.
The cost of getting registered trademark status for your logo is around $275 for an initial application, plus around an additional $400 (depending on various factors of your organization) every ten years that you wish to renew the trademark. You will have to determine for your own organization whether these rates are worth the additional protection they afford your organization’s branding.
The nationally streamlined organization and enforcement of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, as well as the built-in ability to receive compensation for both lost revenue and legal fees, makes trademarking your logo likely a worthwhile decision, even though it is already protected by common law.
How to Get Logos Trademarked
If you decide that it is worth getting your logo trademarked, the process is a relatively simple one. Many organizations can complete the online process in a little over an hour.
Take the following steps to register your trademark online:
- Visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website.
- View the online trademark application using the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS).
- Select an application level:
- A TEAS Plus application, which costs $225 but requires you to provide more complete and detailed information
- Or a TEAS Standard application, which costs $275 but requires less detailed information and descriptions
- Fill out the initial application forms with your organization’s information, and submit the forms and all other related documents electronically. The following will need to be included with your application:
- A drawing of the logo, in color (if applicable), in precisely the form that your organization will use it
- The personal information of the logo’s owner, including name, address, and email address
- Information about the product or company that the logo is connected with and the goods and services that it provides (if applicable)
- Proof that the logo is being actively used or will be actively used on the product or by the organization
- The filing fees
- The signature of the logo’s owner
- Apply for a filing date to ensure that the date of your request to trademark a logo is clearly recorded, preventing any confusion with a possible competitor also submitting the same logo subsequently.
- Wait for your trademark to be processed.
- If there are any issues with your application, you will receive a Notification of Office Action and will need to fill out additional forms before your trademark can be approved.
- Once approved, your trademark will be publicly printed in the Official Gazette of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This weekly publication is meant to provide a public opportunity for anyone to challenge your claim to the trademark.
- Suppose no one challenges your claim to your logo within 3 months of its publication in the Gazette. In that case, the Trademark Office will officially approve your trademark and will issue you the certificate of registration for your new registered trademark.
If you have more questions about the process of trademarking your logo, you can check out this Q&A from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
How Long Does the Trademark Process Take?
The total length of the trademarking process can depend on several factors. Generally, the entire process from start to finish takes somewhere between 13 and 18 months.
Here are the steps of the application process after the initial application is submitted and their general duration:
- U.S. Patent and Trademark Office reviews the application: 4 to 6 months
- Responding to Office Action period (if there are any issues with your application): 6 months
- Publication period in the Gazette: 3 months
- Official approval and Certificate of Registration: 2 to 3 months
As you can see from these numbers, there is a possibility that your application could go through slightly more quickly if all goes perfectly. However, the realistic estimate of the time you are most likely to see is 13 to 18 months, from your initial application to the time of official trademark registration.
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Trademarking Your Logo
When filing your initial trademark paperwork for sending in documents for a 10-year update, making a mistake in the application can cause months and months of delays to your trademark or renewal.
For that reason, it’s essential to pay careful attention to the accuracy of your application. Here are a few common mistakes in trademark applications that you should be careful to avoid:
Not Providing Accurate Owner Information
You may think that listing the trademark information under any executive in your company is okay. However, the logo’s specific current owner (one person) must be listed as the owner in your application or renewal documents.
This owner will be the original creator of the logo, or whoever the logo’s rights were sold to. If this changes over the course of ten years, be sure to update all of the owner’s information in your renewal application.
If the proper owner is not accurately listed in the documents you submit, your renewal application or original application could be rejected.
Not Updating Information About Goods and Services Accurately
Part of the trademark application and renewal process is listing the various goods and services your organization provides.
Accuracy really is important when filling out this information about your organization in application or renewal forms. These mistakes can often be made when submitting renewal documents.
A lot will likely change about your organization over the course of 10 years, so be sure to review the various goods or services you’ve listed in your registration documents and make any needed changes before submitting your renewal. This process takes a little bit of time, but it can save you a ton of hassle in the future when your renewal application could be challenged for the inaccuracy of services listed.
Not Updating Other Changes to Your Organization
Be sure to keep in mind that the following changes also need to be communicated to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office when renewing the trademark for your logo:
- Change in ownership of a trademark
- A business’s change of name
- A business’s change of address
- Change in ownership of the business
Make a checklist of all of this information and review it every ten years to ensure that any of these changes have been updated accurately in your renewal application. This will ensure that your application is accepted and the process goes smoothly and that you don’t risk temporarily losing your trademark over a mistake.
How Long Does a Trademark Last?
Unfortunately, it is not quite as simple as trademarking your logo once and then forgetting about it. Because of how the trademark office is organized, each trademark registration will expire after ten years. However, post-registration maintenance, or the process of updating and renewing a registered trademark every ten years, is fairly simple and straightforward.
Here are the steps to maintaining a registered trademark after it is acquired:
- 5 to 6 years after registration: File a “Declaration of Use,” which basically lets the Patent and Trademark Office know that you are still using the logo in connection with your business or organization, or explains why you are not currently using it, and expresses a desire to continue with the trademark in the future.
- This only needs to be done in the first 10-year period, directly after registering your trademark.
- 9 to 10 years after registration, and every ten years following: File both another “Declaration of Use” and an “Application for Renewal” of your logo’s trademark. Following this, these two forms only need to be submitted once every ten years to maintain your logo’s registered trademark.
If you keep up to date with these renewal steps and deadlines, then you will be able to maintain your copyright. If you miss a deadline, there is a six month grace period for a small fee. However, you won’t want to wait longer than that, as a missed renewal deadline will result in having to start the application process all over again.
How to Get Logos Copyrighted
As mentioned earlier, some organizations opt to get a copyright for their logo in addition to their trademark. While a logo falls into the category of “branding” and thus can receive a trademark, it can also qualify for copyright under the “original artwork” category.
Note: As funny as it might sound, your logo will have to qualify for a certain level of “creativity” to be considered for copyright protection. A basic logo may not be eligible.
Copyrighting a logo is far less common than trademarking it, but you may decide to pursue copyright as well as a trademark if:
- Your logo is exceptionally creative and artistic, and you want to give it protection as a work of art as well as a piece of branding.
- You want to control how your logo is used, published, and distributed in any instance, not just by other companies in their branding.
- You simply want an extra level of protection as a safeguard against intellectual theft.
If you are interested in the extra protection copyright can offer your logo, follow these steps to apply for it:
- Take a moment to research the U.S. Copyright Office website and its databases to ensure that your new logo is really unique.
- Fill out an application to register for a copyright for your logo through the “Electronic Copyright Office” portal. (While paper applications are available, an online application is less expensive and will be processed more quickly.)
- Pay the registration fee for your copyright (only $39 for a logo) through an electronic form of payment such as a credit card or direct deposit from your account.
- Wait for the confirmation from the copyright office.
The cost for copyrighting a logo is much less expensive than trademarking one, averaging between $35 and $80, depending on whether you pay online or by mail, and on various other aspects of your organization.
The copyrighting process also typically takes less time than the process of trademarking your logo. Once you have filed your copyright application, you can expect to hear back from the U.S. Copyright Office within around three months.
Copyrights also do not have to be regularly renewed in the same way that trademarks do, although a copyright period does expire eventually. The term of a copyright depends on the type of work. For a logo created after 1978, which qualifies as an “artwork,” copyright protection will last for the entire life of the logo’s creator and 70 additional years after their death. After that, copyright protections will no longer apply, and it cannot be renewed.
Just like any artwork, your logo will become a part of the public domain after this period. However, you can still continue to renew your trademark protection after this time, maintaining protection against any commercial use of the logo by competitors or other businesses or products.
What Happens If a Logo Trademark or Copyright Is Violated?
So, you’ve done everything right and trademarked or copyrighted your logo, or both. But what steps do you actually take if you find that someone has stolen or replicated your logo?
The process for challenging an infringement of your rights to your logo is slightly different, whether you are challenging it based on a trademark or copyright. Here are the steps to take in each instance:
Responding to a Trademark Violation
Suppose you discover that another organization or product is infringing upon your trademark logo by replicating it too closely, or copying your branding directly. In that case, it is essential to follow the proper protocol when addressing the infringement.
- The first step is to contact a trademark lawyer and let them know the entire situation.
- Your lawyer will then likely help you to craft a cease and desist letter, which will be delivered to the offending party or organization. This letter will specify your logo’s particular infringement and give a clear record of your logo’s status as an official trademark.
Ideally, after this letter is received, the infringement can be settled out of court between your lawyer and the other party’s lawyer. With your lawyer’s help, you will have to determine what you will be willing to settle for, whether it is a particular amount of compensation or simply that the other party or organization stops using the logo altogether.
If the other party refuses to stop using the logo, claims true ownership of it, or refuses to make the payments that you are demanding in compensation for their use of your logo, then the case may need to be settled in court. As trademark registration offers you protection over the commercial “damages” caused by another organization using your logo, you can expect to receive this compensation if you take the other party to court.
In most cases, under trademark law, you can also expect the other party to have to pay your legal fees if it is proven that they have violated your trademark.
Suppose the court case is resolved in your favor. In that case, you can expect the other organization or party to be ordered to stop using the logo, to have to destroy or forfeit any items that still bear the logo, and to have to hand over their profits earned in direct connection with their use of the logo, in addition to paying your company’s damages.
Responding to a Copyright Violation
If you decide to pursue a copyright violation of your logo, the process will look quite similar. Your first step will be to find a copyright lawyer to help you with your case. With the help of this lawyer, you may be able to settle the infringement out of court with the offending party. More frequently, however, the copyright violation will need to be pursued in federal court.
Suppose it is proven that your copyright has been violated. In that case, the offending party will be ordered to pay you statutory damages, a fee which can range from hundreds of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the circumstances and whether the infringement was deliberate.
In conclusion, the protection of trademark and copyright over your logo can be a huge asset to your organization. You will need to determine what protections you need and how much they are worth to you.
Once you have made your decision, the process of filing for a copyright or trademark is relatively straightforward. With these protections in hand, you will have peace of mind about keeping your organization’s strong branding all to yourself!